Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sardinia eCrypt School, October 2015

As I was standing in the sweltering heat, the burning light from above with the hustle bustle of the busy bodies rushing all around me, I thought to myself "in about three hours I'll finally get through Stansted airport security".

One of the reasons I applied for a PhD at the University of Bristol was to travel; to travel all around the world attending conferences, networking with other academics in my field and collaborating on applicable pieces of work. However, I hadn't anticipated that I would arrive at Bristol and meet my supervisors (Elisabeth Oswald and Daniel Page) for them to say "thank goodness you're here, now pack your bags and head to Sardinia for a week".

I didn't argue.

The school I'm referring to is the "School on Design and Security of Cryptographic Algorithms and Devices", and this year it was co-sponsored by the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR). A total of roughly 80 Academics and Professionals from all around the globe attended the conference, many of whom were new PhD students (comme moi), and a few were seasoned Crypto School Veterans. As a newbie I experienced the excitement of meeting all these new faces, and getting to know them over a few glasses of wine (the magnificent hotel resort was very generous with its distribution of wine, particularly to my table).

The Summer School took the form of a crash course in all different aspects of cryptography, focusing on covering a lot of ground with introductory lectures. For my first blog post I really wanted to focus on one particular talk, but after attending them all it became clear that I had quite a few favourites; for their content, Benedikt Gierlichs "Introduction to Implementation Attacks" and Josep Balash "Introduction to Fault Attacks" were fascinating. With a background of little knowledge of practical attacks on embedded security, I was shocked to see just how easy one could manipulate theoretically secure devices, simply by making minor alterations to the embedded circuit (see slides from Benedikt Gierlich "Introduction to Implementation Attacks" for more detail).

As for the presentation of the talk, I give a special mention to Gregor Leander. He was able to introduce Lightweight Block Cipher design whilst holding the attention of his audience through quick wit; he told stories of multiple attempts to create nifty lightweight block ciphers, for them to be proven weak and useless within several months of publication. My favourite was the story of Keeloq - a proprietary hardware-dedicated block cipher that uses a non-linear feedback shift register. It was sold to Microchip Technology Inc in 1995 for $10 million (wow), and it was (maybe is) used in many remote keyless entry systems by companies such as Chrysler, Daewoo, Fiat, GM, Honda, Toyota, Volvo, Volkswagen Group, Clifford, Shurlok, Jaguar, etc. However, the Keeloq algorithm does not use cryptographic nonces (for simplicity), nor does it include time stamping (due to clock drift). This means, of course, that the algorithm is vulnerable to replay attacks: simply jam the channel while intercepting the code, and one can obtain a code that may still be usable at a later stage. If your car still uses Keeloq, you should probably either invest in a steering wheel lock, or paint your car bright pink.

To summarise, the organisers of the School did a fantastic job of bringing everyone together, the speakers were all fantastic and engaging, and I learnt a great deal about Cryptography whilst having the greatest week in Sardinia. I would strongly recommend this school to anyone who has just started a PhD in cryptography, regardless of their topic title. I will most certainly be getting involved in as many of these schools as I can!

Finally, a big shout out to all the friends I made at the School - you are all brilliant and I can't wait for the next one. Also, sorry for my atrocious dancing throughout the week. Blame the bar for playing 'Barbie Girl'.

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